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Trinity College, Cambridge. Among his fellow students he
passed as 'a mere mathematician' with a queer passion for
novel-reading. Cayley was indeed a lifelong devotee of the
somewhat stilted fiction, now considered classical, which
charmed readers of the 1840's and '50's. Scott appears to have
been his favourite, with Jane Austen a close second. Later he
read Thackeray and disliked him; Dickens he could never
bring himself to read. Byron's tales in verse excited his admira-
tion, although his somewhat puritanical Victorian taste rebelled
at the best of the lot and he never made the acquaintance of
that diverting scapegrace Don Juan. Shakespeare's plays, espe-
cially the comedies, were a perpetual delight to him. On the
more solid - or stodgier - side he read and re-read Grote's
interminable History of Greece and Macaulay's rhetorical
History of England. Classical Greek, acquired at school, re-
mained a reading-language for him all his life; French he read
and wrote as easily as English, and Ms knowledge of German
and Italian gave him plenty to read after he had exhausted the
Victorian classics (or they had exhausted him). The enjoyment
of solid fiction was only one of his diversions; others will be
noted as we go.
By the end of his third year at Cambridge Cayley was so far
hi front of the rest in mathematics that the head examiner drew
a line under his name, putting the young man in a class by
himself 'above the first'. In 1842, at the age of twenty-one,
Cayley was senior wrangler in the mathematical tripos, and in
the same year he was placed first in the yet more difficult test
for Smith's prize.
Under an excellent plan Cayley was now in line for a fellow-
ship which would enable him to do as he pleased for a few years.
He was elected Fellow of Trinity and assistant tutor for a
period of three years. His appointment might have been
renewed had he cared to take holy orders, but although Cayley
was an orthodox Church of England Christian he could not
quite stomach the thought of becoming a parson to hang on to
his job or to obtain, a better one - as many did, without
disturbing either their faith or their conscience.
His duties were light almost to the point of non-existence,